For more than a century, the fate of the Anastasia Romanov has remained a mystery. Was she murdered with her family in 1918? Or did she find a way to escape the massacre?
Ariel Lawhorn‘s 2018 novel, I was Anastasia, both asks and answers this question. It starts in the late 1960’s with a woman named Anna Anderson. The press has been hounding her, determined to get the truth from her. The book then flashes back and forth through time from the end of the Romanov rule to the 1920’s when a young woman is pulled from a canal. Though she claims to be Anastasia, there are many who believe her to be a con artist, a mental patient, or both.
The best word to describe this book was promise. It is a promise that failed. The ending was confusing and the author did not provide the response to the question she posed at the beggining of the novel.
If you can, imagine the following: you have lived a relatively peaceful life. Your family is comfortably settled without major problems. There are haters, but they have little to no effect on your day to day schedule. Then you are othered and everything you know is about to go out the window.
Nearly 40 years later, Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann, is herself a newlywed. But the city she has known her entire life has turned against her after the Nazi Invasion. Suddenly, her Jewish faith has made her, her family, and her co-religionists outsiders. Forced out of her home and praying that her husband is released from prison, she has two choices. She can stay and hope that this is the worst of it. Or try to get out and save her family’s legacy from abroad.
A literary companion to the 2015 film, Woman in Gold, this book is wonderful. The switch between Adele in 1903 and Maria in the late 1930’s is seamless. Though history tells us that Maria would get out of Europe and eventually reclaim her family’s property, the question of when and how holds the reader until the last page.